Posts Tagged ‘Academic Dishonesty’

A quick fix for plagiarism

November 8, 2013

It doesn’t seem right. In fact it sounds like an abdication of responsibilities and like covering up a crime if and when the crime is discovered.

But it also sounds a simple fix. A stroke of genius – somewhat crooked but very clever. Just eliminate the plagiarism by punctuation!

If accused of plagiarism, just put the impugned text within quotation marks!

Retraction Watch has the story:

PNAS has a curious correction in a recent issue. A group from Toronto and Mount Sinai in New York, it seems, had been rather too liberal in their use of text from a previously published paper by another researcher — what we might call plagiarism, in a less charitable mood.

To paraphrase Beyoncé: If you like it, better put some quotation marks around it. But we’re pretty sure she meant before, not after, the fact.

The article, “Structural basis for substrate specificity and catalysis of human histone acetyltransferase 1,” had appeared in May 2012, in other words, some 17 months ago. It has been cited twice, according to Thomson Scientific’s Web of Knowledge.


Parthun is Mark Parthun, a professor at Ohio State University. It was he who brought the misused text to PNAS’s attention. He tells us:

I read this paper with great interest because my lab also studies the Hat1 enzyme.  While reading this, a number of the passages in the Introduction and Discussion sections started to sound very familiar.  These passages were familiar because they were plagiarized from a review article I had published earlier (Parthun, M.R. Oncogene 26:5319–5328, 2007).  I also found some sentences that were plagiarized from another manuscript from another lab (Campos, et al, NSMB 2010).  I brought this plagiarism to the attention of the editors at PNAS and suggested that this manuscript be retracted.  After more than a year, PNAS published a correction (  This correction lists all of the passages that were plagiarized and simply says that they should have had quotation marks around them.  This seems like a woefully inadequate response.  PNAS has essentially made plagiarism irrelevant because if you are caught, all you have to do is retroactively say that you should have used quotations.  Is this a common practice with journals.  I hope not because I think this represents a serious step in the erosion of scientific ethics.


We asked Daniel Salisbury, a PNAS editor, why the journal opted to correct rather than retract the paper. This was his reply:

In light of recent concerns from the author of the plagiarized text, we are following up with the PNAS authors’ institution.

Parthun, who said he received a similar message, was not impressed:

My problem with his response [is] that they are simply passing the buck.  I would have thought that PNAS had the ultimate responsibility for the manuscripts that it publishes.  I don’t understand why they need Mount Sinai to tell them when something is improper.

To which we say, we agree.

We’ve emailed Plotnikov for comment and will update this post if we hear from him. Meanwhile, although we think there might be room in science publishing for correcting improperly attributed text, an instance of multiple examples of frank plagiarism such as this probably isn’t the test case.

Are Universities cracking down on academic and scientific misconduct?

September 3, 2011

It may just be a passing gust of a cleansing wind but I do have a perception that universities are becoming much more responsive to allegations of academic dishonesty and scientific misconduct.

Investigations of misconduct at academic institutions have long been notorious for the amount of time they take (usually many years) and for always protecting “the establishment”. But I think I detect a change.

Investigations are speeding up and sanctions against those found guilty are beginning to be more than symbolic slaps on the wrist. The frequency of enforced resignations and dismissals seem to be increasing. I perceive a trend and I hypothesise that it is partly in response to the on-line scrutiny and negative publicity which comes from the blogosphere. 

Close on the heels of the recent Ahluwalia resignation /dismissal come these two cases:

1. Academic impropriety with Professor Julius Nyang’oro considered to have improperly helped athletes to cheat at the University of North Carolina. He is tied to two athletes who were kicked off the football team. In one case he did not detect or ignored blatant plagiarism and in the other he allowed a freshman to take a senior graduate level course and awarded him a suspiciously high grade. Nyang’oro apparently rarely gave low grades in his classes:

College athletes and accommodating professors

UNC professor resigns amid football investigation

UNC’s Afro-American studies head resigns amid questions of football …

2. A well known cardiac researcher Zhiguo Wang has been dismissed from the Montreal Heart Institute for scientific misconduct following retraction of two papers in the Journal of the Biological Chemistry just a month ago.  Wang also has an appointment at the University of Montreal, and is senior research scholar of the Fonds de Recherche en Sante de Quebec, a ChangJiang scholar professor, and a LongJiang scholar professor of China. The dismissal comes less than a month after the publication of the retraction notices.

Authors retract two JBC papers on how heart rhythms go awry; Montreal Heart Institute looking into why

Montreal heart studies ‘withdrawn’ – Zhiguo Wang’s arrhythmia research being investigated after retractions 

Montreal hospital dismisses cardiac researcher over misconduct allegations

There have been a number of other cases recently in Germany as well where the speed of the investigations by the academic institutions have been unprecedented (zu Guttenberg and Bulfone-Paus as examples).

Perhaps it’s all just in my mind – or even wishful thinking – but I have the distinct impression that a cleansing wind is beginning to blow. The world wide web may already be having an impact on combating academic dishonesty and scientific misconduct by forcing institutions to be more responsive. There is much on-line which is still malicious or untrue or just plain rubbish. But the amount of “solid” comment has achieved a  “critical mass”. The blogosphere can no longer be merely ignored it seems.

“Top 11 examples” of US academic dishonesty

August 28, 2011

This an arbitrary listing / ranking of examples of academic dishonesty at US colleges and secondary schools put together by Online Colleges. I am sure there are many other candidates for the list but I have no doubt that it is only by exposing such cases that change can occur. The internet provides an unprecedented medium for the exposure of cases which would otherwise be swept under carpets and never get any attention. The cases of plagiarism being revealed in Germany is a case in point.

The downside of the internet is, of course, that mere allegations may be taken as being confirmed fact and that it also allows personal feuds and partisan opinions to be presented without much rigorous scrutiny.

11 Most Egregious Examples of Academic Dishonesty 

Academic dishonesty is a serious concern on college campuses and secondary schools around the U.S., as it seriously undermines the entire purpose of education. Not only does it reflect poorly on students, but the institutions to which they are enrolled as well. While cheating and lying in the classroom is nothing new, in recent years the lengths to which many college kids (and their teachers) are willing to go has shocked and surprised many. This often leads to a call for stricter penalties levied on those violating academic honor codes.

No matter where you stand on cheating or how you feel it should be combated in a school setting, there is no doubt that these cases we’ve collected here are some of the most outrageous examples in recent history. We’d like to hope these eventually mark a turning point in student behavior, but as education becomes even more competitive and expensive, cheating isn’t likely to stop anytime soon.

China retracts a national scientific award for plagiarism

February 14, 2011

From Xinhua News:

Li Liansheng: photo China Daily

BEIJING, Feb. 10 (Xinhua) — The recent revocation of a national scientific award due to academic fraud was the first of its kind in China, National Office for Science and Technology Awards told Xinhua Thursday.

China’s Ministry of Science and Technology, on Feb. 1, issued a statement revoking the State Scientific and Technological Progress Award (SSTPA) given to Li Liansheng, former professor of Xi’an Jiaotong University.

According to the statement, the investigation found Li had plagiarized others’ works and fabricated data in his winning project, and his prize will be canceled and money awarded retrieved.

Zhao Baojing, senior officer with the National Office for S&T Award, told Xinhua that it was the first time China had withdrawn a national scientific honor.

Li Liansheng, former professor and doctoral tutor of Xi’an Jiaotong University, received the second-place prize of the SSTPA in 2005 for his research on key technologies for designing and manufacturing scroll compressors.

In 2008, he was accused of plagiarism and providing false data in the winning project by six professors of Xi’an Jiaotong University. An investigation was later carried out.

Xi’an Jiaotong University suspended Li from working at the university and rescinded his employment contract in March, 2010. writes:

News that the ministry is stripping him of his award for scientific and technological progress comes three years after six colleagues first claimed that the energy and power studies expert had plagiarized the work of others.

Wan Gang, the minister of science and technology, had earlier vowed that there would be a “zero tolerance” policy toward research frauds and academic plagiarism amid growing criticism about the country’s academic integrity.

“We will dig up the past of those researchers who fake their works and punish them,” he told China Daily in November 2010.

The country has more than 2.3 million workers in the science and technology field and the number of research papers published on the subject has topped the world.

The intense competition to get work published has led some researchers to exaggerate their achievements, said critics.

“In China, we care whether a paper is published in a magazine more than we care about the paper’s quality and academic influence,” Rao Yi, dean of the School of Life Sciences at Peking University, was quoted as saying in a report in China Youth Daily.

Universities and colleges are ranked according to the number of academic papers their staff can get published and the number of references they get in influential journals


“Set a thief to catch a thief”?

January 22, 2011

Earlier posts have dealt with the case of Jatinder Ahluwalia – a pharmacologist – who was found to have deceived his colleagues and probably sabotaged other’s research whose paper published in Nature was retracted. Ahluwalia was then at University College London but is now employed at the University of East London.

Retraction Watch now points out that he has published a new paper – not on pharmacology this time but about plagiarism! The paper appears in Bioscience Education, “Students Turned Off by Turnitin? Perception of Plagiarism and Collusion by Undergraduate Bioscience Students.”

Ahluwalia and his co-author, Andrew Thompsett, did the study

to provide qualitative data on the perceptions of plagiarism and collusion of final year Pharmacology students.

That he is no longer at UCL is understandable but that he is employed in the position he has at the University of East London is less understandable – not least from the perspective of the University. East London University has a history going back to 1898 as an educational institution but only became a University in 1992. It is the 3rd largest university in London in terms of student numbers and the 18th largest in the United Kingdom. But it ranks around 108th of the UK’s 115 Universities. I have difficulty to see how this University (which clearly needs to improve its ranking) could enhance its reputation by employing Ahluwalia. But perhaps Ahluwalia is a good teacher even if his reputation as a researcher in his own field is irrevocably tarnished.

The subject of his latest publication being more a social study rather than hard-core pharmacology is also understandable. And unlike many other sociologists he may have some unique qualifications to study plagiarism.

The paper itself is somewhat negative about a particular commercial product (Turnitin) and therefore of some benefit to its competitors – and that itself rings some alarm bells.

Unfortunately for Turnitin,

The results from the pilot study suggested that students did not find Turnitin (UK) easy to use neither did they perceive it as a useful learning tool.

But some questions also arise as to the the publishing Journal’s wisdom of publishing such a study  – which could be considered  “negative advertising” – and by such an author. Especially since they say that one of their objectives is to disseminate “good practice”.  Even consumer magazines are wary of reviewing just one product in isolation without also subjecting competing products to the same tests. From their website:

Bioscience Education is an online, bi-annual electronic journal owned and published by the Centre for Bioscience. Its aims are to promote, enhance and disseminate research, good practice and innovation in tertiary level teaching and learning within the biosciences disciplines.

Set a thief to catch a thief is a well tried concept but it does require some modicum of common sense.

When plagiarism is not plagiarism : part 2

January 17, 2011

Plagiarism has never been considered misconduct in the political arena. And it would seem it is not considered misconduct when purported science is used in a political or religious cause.

I posted earlier about how plagiarism is not plagiarism in the eyes of a journal editor when it is done in his own journal.

Steve McIntyre reports on another case where science is subordinated to political and religious beliefs.

Apparently plagiarism is not plagiarism when carried out by Kevin Trenberth in support of his religious beliefs. But the actions reported here to hastily introduce attributions wherever plagiarism had been detected, suggest that Trenberth realises that if his scientific misconduct is shown then his religious positions are undermined and discredited.

Chinese Science Ministry vindicates academic fraud journalists

October 13, 2010
Chinese Academy of Sciences

Chinese Academy of Sciences: Image via Wikipedia

The case of the two crusading journalists in China who were brutally attacked after they had exposed academic fraud has been reported by Retraction Watch and the risks they take has been reported here.

In one case after a quick trial, a local court in Beijing convicted urologist Xiao Chuang-Guo on 10 October of assaulting two well-known advocates of academic integrity in China.
One victim of the attacks was Fang Shimin, freelance writer and self-appointed watchdog of research misconduct. Fang had questioned Xiao’s academic achievements, but this was not what prompted the attack, Xiao claimed. Xiao told the court that he had a decade-long personal conflict with Fang, mainly because Fang had insulted Xiao’s wife and teacher.

But the Chinese Science Ministry has today issued a statement castigating Xiao.

China’s Ministry of Science and Technology has lambasted a doctor at the center of an academic fraud scandal who masterminded two violent attacks on his critics, and denied he was still on the payroll of a medical research project. The ministry issued a statement on its website late Tuesday, claiming Doctor Xiao Chuanguo had no respect for the law and disrupted social order.

It said Xiao should be condemned for his vicious misconduct and lack of integrity. Xiao, 55, head of the Urology Department of Wuhan Union Hospital, was sentenced Sunday to five and a half months in detention by the Shijingshan District People’s Court of Beijing. The court found Xiao hired four men to attack two writers who had accused him of academic fraud.

Xiao believed the accusation had led to his failing to become a member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

The victims of the violent attacks were Fang Zhouzi, a science writer with a reputation for exposing academic fraud, and Fang Xuanchang, an editor at the economic journal, Caijing.

The ministry denied claims that Xiao was still a chief scientist on a ministry-sponsored science project.

According to the statement, Xiao used to be the chief scientist researching neurological damage repair on the “973 Plan,” a key national science project. The statement said Xiao’s program ran from 2003 to 2008 and that Xiao was no longer responsible for any “973 plan” projects. It said “chief scientist” was not an honorary title.



Academic Cheating: China and India need to clean up their acts

October 9, 2010

The number of scientific research papers published in India stood at 22,215 in 2007, up from 11,067 a decade earlier.  Chinese academies published a similar number of papers in 1997 — 12,632 but that figure had leapt to 67,433 by 2007.  China in 2007 contributed8.6 percent of the world’s scientific papers while India produced 2.4 percent.




Publish or perish is the prevailing paradigm in both countries and plagiarism, data manufacture and manipulation and just downright cheating are endemic to academia. (Plagiarism is rampant in the Indian movie industry and in book publishing as well so academia merely reflects the society at large).

Where cases of plagiarism come to light as with the recent high profile case of plagiarism in reports on GM crops or the cases of plagiarism at IIT-Kanpur, the whitewash committees soon swing into action. Even if sometimes suspended, it does not take long for the parties involved to regain their former positions. CYA prevails.

But the solution does not lie just with correcting institutional processes and better monitoring. A fundamental change in institutional and personal standards of ethics  is required. Academia will need to lead society and not just be sheep.

Just some of the recent cases of academic plagiarism in India and China are given below:


  1. Plagiarism: a scourge afflicting the Indian science
  2. Plagiarism plagues India’s genetically modified crops
  3. Biotechnology Advances retracts 3 papers from India for plagiarism
  4. Scientific plagiarism in India
  5. We must restore scientific integrity in Indian research
  6. In India, plagiarism is on the rise
  7. Call for Indian plagiarism watchdog
  8. Copycats from IIT-Kanpur?


  1. Do plagiarism, fraud, and retractions make it more difficult trust research from China?
  2. Rampant Fraud Threat to China’s Brisk Ascent.
  3. Scientists behaving badly; Recent events show China needs to clean up its scientific act.
  4. Academic corruption undermining higher education: Yau Shing-tung.
  5. CHINA: Universities fail to tackle plagiarism.
  6. In China, academic cheating is rampant; Some say practice harmful to nation.
  7. CHINA: Professor sacked for academic plagiarism
  8. Nearly half of China’s science workers think academic cheating is “common”.

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